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‘Dangerous Lies’ holds back the truth about who can be trusted

Camila Mendes stars in the clever Netflix thriller as a caregiver who wins over a wealthy Chicago man (Elliott Gould).

Jessie T. Usher and Camila Mendes star as a couple working for a rich loner in “Dangerous Lies.”
Netflix

I’m not sure I trust that one guy.

Oh, and that other guy? I DEFINITELY don’t trust him. And I have my suspicions about a couple of other people as well.

“Dangerous Lies” is about as generic a title as you could pin on a mystery, but this Netflix original movie truly is an original little gem of a thriller, with a tantalizing setup followed by a steady series of intriguing developments that keep us guessing to the very end. Working from a clever if occasionally convoluted screenplay by David Golden, director Michael M. Scott has fashioned a classic cautionary tale about two seemingly good and smart people who make some dumb decisions when greed and opportunity come knocking.

Camila Mendes (“Riverdale”) delivers an empathetic and layered performance as Katie, who takes a job as a caregiver for the wealthy and elderly Leonard (the great Elliott Gould), who lives alone on a sprawling, rather musty estate in Chicago that looks like it was last decorated in 1961. (Principal photography for “Dangerous Lies” actually took place in Vancouver, but we get numerous transition shots of the Chicago skyline and CTA trains zipping past to remind us we’re in Chicago. Alas, squad cars labeled “Chicago Metro Law Enforcement” and multiple shots of a newspaper called the Chicago Commenter chip away at the verité.)

Leonard is a lovely but lonely old man who seems to have no family or friends. (He says he was never married, but that may or may not be the case.) He takes an instant shine to Katie and within months is calling her his “caretaker, companion and friend.” When Katie confides to Leonard she and her husband Adam (Jessie T. Usher) are facing financial difficulties, Leonard writes her a check for $7,000, and hires Adam to do some part-time gardening work on the estate.

Elliott Gould plays a wealthy old man who lives alone on a sprawling Chicago estate in “Dangerous Lies.”
Netflix

Adam is a real charmer and even a hero, as he recently thwarted an armed robber at a Chicago diner. But there’s something … suspicious about the way Adam eyes Leonard’s vintage car and is always asking Katie questions about Leonard’s wealth. There might even be something suspicious about that seemingly random diner robbery. There’s also something suspicious about the slick real estate agent (Cam Gigandet) who keeps inquiring about Leonard’s house and saying he has a highly motivated buyer, even though Katie keeps telling the guy the place is not for sale.

As you might expect or should I say suspect, poor old Leonard doesn’t make it out of the movie alive. He dies of natural causes (we think) in the attic of the estate, where he liked to listen to old 78 rpm records and relax. Before Katie and Adam even call 911, Adam goes rooting around in an old trunk in the attic — and discovers nearly $100,000 in loose bills. Hmmmm, what to do? If they turn the money over to the authorities, they’ll never see it again. Given how much Leonard cared about Katie and wanted her to have a good life, shouldn’t they just take the cash and never say a word about it? What could possibly go wrong?

Even though Leonard knew Katie for all of four months, he named her as the heir of that multi-million-dollar estate in his will. What a windfall! Just like that, without redecorating or putting anything in storage or making any changes whatsoever to the house, Katie and Adam move in — and that’s right around the time things begin to close in all around them. Various characters, including a police investigator and a lawyer, pop in to ask questions about suspicious developments. As the score grows ever more ominous, Katie and Adam start keeping secrets from one another. The deeper we dive into the story, the less certain we are about everyone’s true motivations — which of course is exactly what we want in a mystery such as this.

The production design in “Dangerous Lies” is first-rate, especially with the interiors of the home and the garage, with an array of forgotten spaces yielding key pieces of evidence about Leonard’s past. Even the dead characters in this story aren’t what they originally appeared to be.

Mendes and Usher are excellent together as a couple in love but not necessarily totally committed to trusting one another. Jamie Chung shines as an attorney who has a knack for showing up at the right place at the wrong time. And it’s a real treat to see 81-year-old Elliott Gould putting his unique stamp on a character, as he’s been doing since the 1960s.